Private ambulance companies in the city of Milwaukee are struggling to meet the demand of calls, and many of them are experiencing staffing shortages.
The I-TEAM found three of the four companies are not meeting the city’s standards for what’s called a turnback, or calls that the companies turn down because they are too busy or don’t have the personnel to take the call.
Part of the blame falls on how the companies are paid. The ambulance companies bill the insurance companies, but they are paid at a rate set by the state.
In Wisconsin, that rate is $94 per ambulance ride, plus anything used during the call. That rate has remained the same for at least a decade, the private companies say.
Comparatively in Minnesota, that rate is about $230 and in Michigan its $126. Iowa’s rate is lower, at more than $84.
“If there are lower reimbursement rates in our state versus surrounding states, guess what, if you’re skilled to be an EMT, guess where you’re going to go?” said state Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee.
Taylor and other state lawmakers are the ones with the power to change the rate at which ambulance companies are paid.
“You know I support trying to change those, but the truth of the matter is I don’t believe in this legislative cycle that is something that would happen,” Taylor said.
As a former volunteer firefighter, state Rep. Amy Loudenbeck, R-Clinton, knows the struggle of a fire department.
She’s proposed several bills to lessen the strain on ambulance services across the state, including one to allow ambulances to care for people in their homes or drive them to alternative care options.
“Finding right care right time right place, finding a lower cost approach, not always going to the emergency room,” Loudenbeck said. “These are things that could save communities an enormous amount of money.”
Both Loudenbeck and Taylor say the problem won’t be fixed fast.
“There’s no silver bullet,” Loudenbeck said.
“This didn’t happen overnight, this isn’t going to change overnight,” Taylor said.
Everyone we talked with hopes for a resolution before the situation becomes critical.
“We’re not going to have ambulances to send to people and that’s not right,” said James Lombardo of Bell Ambulance.